Francisco_mela-cirio_span3
January/February 2009

Francisco Mela
Cirio
Half Note Records

The brilliance of Cirio, recorded live at the Blue Note, lies in drummer/bandleader Francisco Mela’s ability to inform its eight pieces with the Cuban sensibilities of his upbringing without ever succumbing to an unfettered traditional island rhythm. That’s no easy feat but Mela and his crew—pianist Jason Moran, budding guitar superstar Lionel Loueke, bassist Larry Grenadier and saxophonist Mark Turner—are up to it. Mela’s Latin sources are more implied than overt, present in the punishing pulse and the quick turns of phrase, but Cirio could never be described as by-the-books Latin jazz.

However, its diversity owes not only to that seamless cross-pollination but also to Mela’s delegation skills; not every musician plays on every track, and that’s what keeps things moving. “Tierra and Fuego,” the opening track—one of six penned by Mela—belongs primarily to the exploratory wanderings of Turner first and then Moran’s angular lines. Loueke’s electronically altered solo, muted but forceful, peppers the track with scintillating colorings. But “Channel 2,” which follows, strips the ensemble to a bass-drums-saxophone trio, Grenadier and Mela’s urgent thrust setting up Turner’s snaking melody for a free ride. Throughout the set, Mela lets the force be with him as he churns—the structure is largely borderless, but Mela keeps it on a steady course.

If there’s one complaint it is Mela’s predilection for full-throttle drumming regardless of setting: an unrepentant powerhouse, he doesn’t always know when to lay back and give the music some oxygen. Ironically he’s at his best when he reins it in during the Loueke showcase “Benes.” Although still busy as a beaver, Mela manages not to overwhelm, a habit that gets the best of him too often. That caveat aside, Cirio is a recording that yields new riches with each playing.

Originally published in January/February 2009
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